What Would We Do Without Experts?

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 21, 2013

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

bow17What Would We Do Without Experts?
“Some Cyber Security Experts Recommend Shutting Obamacare Site”–headline, Reuters, Nov. 20

If You Like Your Dog, You Can Keep Your Dog

  • “White House Highlights ‘Adorable Care Act’ “–headline, Politico.com, Sept. 26
  • “Colo. Man Signs Up for His Insurance, His Dog Gets Covered Instead”–headline, KDVR-TV website (Denver), Nov. 15

ObamaCare Supporters Crank Up the Racial Rhetoric
Sometimes it’s obvious when somebody states the obvious, and we’ve seen a lot of examples of late as America’s left-liberals have struggled to come to grips with the disaster of ObamaCare. Example: “The mismanagement of the website HealthCare.gov and the cancellation of millions of policies pushes an underlying question out into the open: Is the federal government capable of managing the provision of a fundamental service through an extraordinarily complex system?” Arguably the answer is no less obvious than the question.

It is nonetheless remarkable for its source: Thomas Edsall, a “contributing op-ed writer” for the New York Times (we surmise that means he’s not on the New York Times Co. health-insurance plan). Edsall goes on to admit that “recent developments . . . strengthen the most damaging conservative portrayals of . . . big government”–to wit, that “too much a part of our lives, too invasive, too big, too scary, too regulatory, too in your face” as well as “incompetent, bureaucratic and expropriatory.”

Which, of course, means it is necessary to change the subject to something more comfortable: race. “The Affordable Care Act can be construed as a transfer of benefits from Medicare, which serves an overwhelmingly white population of the elderly–77 percent of recipients are white–to Obamacare, which will serve a population that is 54.7 percent minority,” Edsall writes.

Hmmm, if the ObamaCare population is 54.7% minority, that would make it 45.3% majority. Math is hard.

Predictably, Edsall goes on to blame opposition to ObamaCare on “a critical mass of white voters” who have not “moved past [their] resistance to programs shifting tax dollars and other resources from the middle class to poorer minorities.” If you don’t want the government to redistribute your wealth to somebody else, you must be racist.

It’s telling that in the course of disparaging whites, Edsall also disparages Medicare, which–along with Social Security–is normally sacrosanct to American liberals (as well as to many conservatives). As a political matter, the old-age entitlements are by far the most successful elements of the American welfare state. That’s because beneficiaries imagine themselves as collecting on their past “investment,” in the form of payroll taxes paid during their working years.

That “investment” is notional; in reality, the old-age entitlements are a redistribution scheme that transfers money from current workers to current retirees–which is a problem when the retiree-to-worker ratio grows, as it will do in the coming years as baby boomers retire. Still, there is a justified sense that Social Security and Medicare recipients are “deserving” in a way that beneficiaries of antipoverty welfare programs, regardless of race, are not.

Edsall is no doubt correct that Medicare beneficiaries are mostly white. But they’re not disproportionately white. According to census data, 77.9% of Americans–slightly more than Edsall’s figure for the white proportion of the elderly population–are “white alone” (meaning not multiracial). Given that blacks have shorter life expectancy than whites, it’s a bit surprising that there isn’t at least a small disproportion.

Speaking of disparities in life expectancy, back in 2005 a prominent American made an argument analogous to Edsalls, only vis-à-vis Social Security. He was denounced for “playing the race card” in the pages of the New York Times, by none other than former Enron adviser Paul Krugman:

This week, in a closed meeting with African-Americans, [George W.] Bush asserted that Social Security was a bad deal for their race, repeating his earlier claim that “African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people.” In other words, blacks don’t live long enough to collect their fair share of benefits.

“The claim that blacks get a bad deal from Social Security is false,” Krugman asserted, adding that it was “doubly shameful.” This was his rebuttal:

Blacks’ low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years–not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.

Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Krugman defended Social Security by portraying it as a redistributionist scheme that benefits poorer blacks. Now Edsall disparages Medicare as insufficiently redistributionist to the benefit of poorer blacks. Krugman portrayed Bush as a racial villain for seeking to reform the entitlement state. Edsall now portrays the majority of Americans as racial villains for opposing a “reform” that he himself acknowledges has proved “disastrous.”

The charge of racism is a sign of desperation. Expect to hear it more and louder in the coming weeks and months as the ObamaCare failures multiply.

Our expectation is that the next major development in the ObamaCare collapse will be the general acknowledgment by Democrats that the administration will blow its Nov. 30 deadline for getting the exchanges working. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took a big step in that direction yesterday “appearing to soften a promise that the site will be working by then for the vast majority of users,” as the Associated Press describes it in a Miami dispatch:

“The 30th of November is not a magic go, no go date. It is a work of constant improvement. We have some very specific things we know we need to complete by the 30th and that punch list is getting knocked out every week,” Sebelius told The Associated Press. . . .

When asked why officials pushed ahead with the Oct. 1 launch date despite warnings the site hadn’t been properly tested, Sebelius said they were hoping to give consumers as much time as possible to enroll before coverage begins in January.

“We were hoping to maximize that,” she said. “Clearly that was a bad call.”

That last quote is another example of a noteworthy acknowledgment of the obvious. And as we’ve noted before, the idea that this is simply a matter of getting a “website” working is a common misconception. The New York Times reports that “the chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace said Tuesday that 30 percent to 40 percent of the project was still being built”:

The official, Henry Chao, made the assessment in testimony before a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Lawmakers expressed surprise that so much work remained to be done seven weeks after the federal website opened to the public.

Mr. Chao, the deputy chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the government was still working on “back office systems,” including those needed to pay insurance companies that are supposed to provide coverage to millions of people under President Obama’s health care law.

“We have yet–we still have to build the financial management aspects of the system, which includes our accounting system and payment system and reconciliation system,” Mr. Chao said. These parts of the system, he said, are “still being developed and tested.”

What should be most troubling to ObamaCare supporters is that the administration seems to be oblivious to the scale of the disaster. All its actions so far, especially the Nov. 30 deadline and the president’s bogus “fix” for the problem of canceled policies, seem designed to do nothing more than buy time–that is, forestall the reckoning.

In a post yesterday titled “Here’s Why Dems Should Stick With Obamacare,” the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote that Democrats “shouldn’t, and almost certainly won’t,” take steps to “seriously distance themselves” from ObamaCare. The reason: While polls find that “disapproval of the law and the president is soaring . . . key elements of the Democratic coalition still think it can be made to work, and overwhelmingly oppose repeal”:

The new Washington Post/ABC News poll is brutal to Obama and his signature domestic achievement. Sixty-three percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of it. Only 40 percent support the law, versus 57 percent who oppose it. Only 34 percent support the individual mandate, and 71 percent support delaying it. The administration’s rollout of the law was an epic, unforgiveable [sic] failure, so it’s not surprising public disapproval is skyrocketing. That’s as it should be.

However–and this is key–the public remains divided, at 49-49, on whether the government can ultimately get the law working or whether it is unworkable.

What difference does it make if the public thinks the law is workable? If it isn’t–if the 49% who still think it is are deluded or just mistaken–delaying the acknowledgment will only make the disaster worse.

There is, however, a certain logic to Sargent’s argument. Some substantial portion of that 49%–likely the most loyal Democrats, as Sargent suggests–would feel betrayed if Democratic politicians abandoned ObamaCare now. They would insist that ObamaCare was workable, or anyway would have been if the Dems hadn’t been so spineless. It’s quite plausible the result would be a complete collapse in support for Obama and the Democrats.

But if Democratic voters’ (foolish) optimism about the workability of ObamaCare is constraining Democratic politicians from taking steps that might ameliorate the disaster, that is in substantial part a problem of the administration’s own making. Surely if the administration had been forthright from the start–yeah, we know, the biggest “if” ever–the proportion of voters who think the law workable would be smaller than 49%. For that matter, the likelihood that the law would actually be workable would be at least somewhat higher.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”